Social enterprises are mission-driven organizations using business as a tool to solve the complex social and development challenges of today’s times. They work to generate and improve livelihoods of those at the Base of the Pyramid. Very recently (2005 onwards) India has seen a growth of such organizations.
Broadly, there are three types of social enterprises. The organizations of the first type are focusing on offering products or services relating to following areas: Agriculture and Agri-businesses, Energy, Livelihood promotion, Healthcare, Education, Water & sanitation and Advocacy & Public policy. Majority of the social enterprises are of this type. Second types are the organizations that support and enable social businesses to achieve and maximize their impact. They provide support at following levels: Financial or Funding support, consulting services, acquiring human resources, developing and offering technology products etc. The third types are the networks that enable social businesses to showcase their work and impact. These also provide a platform for the enterprises to collaborate for achieving common objectives.
We have been working in this sector a little after graduating from IIT Kanpur in 2009. When we started to explore the sector we were passionate to make a social impact and actively reached out to understand and familiarize ourselves with the sector. Looking back, there wasn’t an ecosystem to propel us in to the sector. If it was not for some right people to guide and support us we would have chosen mainstream careers due to familiarity, awareness and popularity.
Apart from one perceived core issue of lack of competitive salaries, we realize that there are other challenges also that are hindering students/ alumni to join the sector and need to be addressed. For example, quality of the information available about the landscape of the sector, about the work opportunities, career paths in the sector and about the companies in this sector is very poor. There are very few social enterprises visit campuses for recruitment and are not able to position themselves distinctly as opposed to the mainstream corporates that visit. There also seems to be some misalignment between the needs of social enterprises and the aspirations of the youth who might be willing to join this sector as a career alternative.
Many of the social enterprises that we studied are facing some key challenges as they strive to scale up and work toward sustainable operating model. Such challenges include hiring and retaining good talent, raising funds and building long term financial viability, building a value chain and setting up a scalable business model.
As we see, young generation today has much greater apatite and interest in the entrepreneurial careers and many of them are willing to explore new paths for leadership opportunities. Social enterprises offer a great combination of entrepreneurial opportunities and nation building platforms. However, the mindset and thinking of conventional non-profit organization or charity organizations have been limiting the imaginations as well as the exploration of the young minds. This needs to be challenged and changed.
To address some of the challenges listed above, we at IIT mentors are building a holistic platform for getting together social enterprises and students/ alumni who want to understand and contribute to the sector. As a part of this we plan to conduct awareness events and workshops and also facilitate career opportunities in partnership with the prominent social enterprises as well as with our alliances like Global Shapers.